It's often the fate of even the best books set in diversions to be dismissed as "sports books." It would be especially unfair if that were to happen to Nan Mooney's "My Racing Heart: The Passionate World of Thoroughbreds and The Track (Harper, Collins)."
"My Racing Heart" is full of racing, certainly. When she was a child, Mooney was introduced to the excitement and unpredictablility of the track by her grandmother, a gloriously energetic woman happy to pass on her own passion for nearly everything connected to the business and pleasure of thoroughbred racing. But what drives the book is Mooney's exceptional writing. "The races and I each exist in tacit agreement about what the other is meant to supply," she writes in a chapter entitled 'Unconditional Love.' "The track brings spontaneity, excess, an honesty of emotion. I bring a promise not to assume or plan or judge. We both stay primed to possibility. I can look into the future and see how we might continue in this way forever, thriving not on the peaks but on the potential for them. Surely this is what it means to be in love."
It's a description that will be a leap for folks who view the race track only as an opportunity to gamble, or only as a rigged game designed to fleece the suckers, or only as a diversion for the impossibly rich. The triumph of My Racing Heart is Mooney's determination to embrace and celebrate the complexity of the world she's come to know. She recognizes, as our best writers do, that the best talk about universal truths begins with the precise observation of specific wonders. The early mornings when she can hear the horses coming out of the far turn before she can see them through the mist are exquisite, and Mooney celebrates them beautifully. But she won't turn away from what's gruesome. She hates the sight of a horse breaking down, but she will not avert her eyes, for to do so would be deny a part of the whole she has embraced.
One of the subtexts of this extraordinary book is Nan Mooney's discovery of all the ways in which she doesn't quite fit into the life at the track. Though she's a fine rider, she grows too tall to be a jockey. Though she enjoys - at least at times - a mystical communion with the horses, a communion lots of handicappers would kill for, she sees in the devoted gamblers a terrible loneliness which she cannot imagine embracing. In a process which she invites her reader to witness, Nan Mooney finds out that she is a fan of the sport. It might seem a humble discovery, but her prose makes it memorable, and the book offers its readers that rare opportunity to know the writer and her world, and to know, also, that the story she has to tell simply could not have been told more brilliantly.
This program aired on July 13, 2002. The audio for this program is not available.